Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot     index     <prev     next>


"I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm - outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya's peasant before the firing squad. I formalized the drawing into a line and put a circle round it."

--Gerald Holtom, artist and creator of the peace symbol, describing his thoughts to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News, 1973

The Tarot's Wheel is a wheel of fortune, the certain course of human life along an uncertain path. Its axial rotation is irreversible and its circumference a living circuit of eternal return. The rise and fall of fateful Fortune, inexplicable but assured, embodies the continuity of all hope and fear. The Counterculture Wheel is the sign of peace, a circular symbol designed to protest nuclear armaments but absorbed as a badge of resistance against the fateful projection toward universal death. This projection, thousands of years in the making as humans perfected more deadly and efficient methods of killing, produced finally a man-molded capability to annihilate all life in an instant.

Born within months of the nuclear bomb's creation, a Berkeley student tramps two decades later down Telegraph Avenue past a Wheel scrawled roughly on a boarded building. He flows with the crowd, swept along on the edge of his own turning wheel. It is 1967 and for most of his life he has co-existed with the reality that an unseen enemy points nuclear weapons at him and that in an instant he and all life can be annihilated on a political whim. It nearly happened five years earlier when the enemy placed nuclear arms in Cuba. Still he carries his books and prepares for a future, even as the graffiti wheel reminds him that his life - a future - is not assured as long as mutual destruction is assured. The Wheel on the wall gives voice to an efferent realization that enough is enough in the course of thousands of years of war and that humans had simply to find another way. The new Wheel, a symbol of resistance that spread from nuclear disarmament to embrace all peaceful protest against war and injustice, was to be thrown against the Wheel of Fortune, to jam its motion, to stop the fateful progress toward destruction.

Two world powers now pointed enough nuclear weapons at each other to destroy humanity many times over. It seemed frighteningly absurd. Still, given the historical track of Fortune, there was every reason to think that the next, unthinkable war was inevitable. The Tarot's Wheel card reminds us though that, even as the Wheel moves inextricably around, nothing that happens is ordained. Between the spaces of its ticks there exists some fluidity. The wheel is a symbol in many faiths of the world into which a spirit descends, that locks it into a life, making it a slave to whim and desire, but offering a crucial opportunity for change. The Hindu wheel of karmic motion has only one exit: one must dissolve entirely, individuality destroyed, to melt back into bliss. As well, there is no way out of war but to end it.